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Only About 10% Private Camping Sites Hold Related Licences Foster In-depth Tourism Through Strengthening Regulatory Safeguards

  • 2024.06.17

To enjoy the magnificent landscape in Hong Kong, many families and even tourists opt to go camping, and thus private camping sites have sprung up all over Hong Kong in recent years. These campsites offer self-service tents, caravans, or dormitories, and some even offer “glamping” services with extensive facilities for visitors to enjoy. However, according to information gathered from 22 sites claiming to provide varying camping services, followed up with enquiries with relevant Government departments on land use and licensing conditions, the Planning Department stated that as of 11 June, around 40% of these sites were suspected of undergoing unauthorised development of “Holiday Camp” which may require follow up. In addition, only 3 of the surveyed sites held a Guesthouse (Holiday Camp) licence or a Certificate of Compliance for a club. Whether the remaining sites had breached the Hotel and Guesthouse Accommodation Ordinance (HAGAO) is yet to be verified by the authorities. The Council further randomly selected 7 sites providing “glamping” services for in-depth study, and found only 3 had explicitly declared purchase of third party liability insurance, and only 2 had staff stationed on-site round-the-clock, which meant that consumers might not be able to receive immediate assistance and adequate protection in case of emergencies or accidents. The Council urges site operators to review compliance with land laws and regulatory requirements, and to take the initiative to strengthen protection for visitors, including taking out third party liability insurance, and applying for relevant licences or permits. The Government may also consider the necessity of issuing licences for such sites to enhance consumer protection, and to provide tourists with alternative tourism experiences, thereby promoting the development of in-depth tourism in Hong Kong.

From March to May this year, the Council, through internet research, collected the names and addresses of 26 sites claiming to provide various camping services in different districts. Taking out 4 sites which claimed to have terminated operations, the Council examined the land use and licencing of the remaining 22 sites[1]. Furthermore, 7 sites providing “glamping” services were randomly selected for analysing their charges, facilities, restrictions, and disclaimer terms and conditions, etc. The information was also passed to the sites concerned for verification and supplementation, but 2 never responded or indicated that they would not reply, reflecting much room for improvement in information transparency.

Some Not Located Within “Recreation” Zone or Not for “Holiday Camp” Use

According to the Town Planning Board (TPB), “Holiday Camp” is defined as a place where huts, cabins, shelters or other structures are put up as short-term accommodation for leisure for people on outings or on vacation, with examples of “shelters” including tents, caravans, etc. As regards whether a site can be used for “Holiday Camp” in statutory planning, the Planning Department advised that it depends on whether the location of the proposed use complies with relevant statutory Outline Zoning Plan (OZP) requirements. Generally speaking, “Holiday Camp” is always permitted in “Recreation” zone and no application is required, while “Holiday Camp” in “Government, Institution or Community”, “Open Space” and “Green Belt” zones, etc. may be subject to application to the TPB. With reference to information provided by the Planning Department before the publication deadline, out of the 22 surveyed sites, 6 were situated within “Recreation” zones, 1 was established before the statutory plan came into effect and thus was not required to obtain permission from the TPB, and 1 was granted valid planning permission for temporary holiday camp with conditions. Thereafter the Planning Department replied on 11 June, stating that 4 more sites did not constitute unauthorised developments under the Town Planning Ordinance, and 1 site was found vacant during inspection. If there is sufficient evidence to prove that the remaining 9 sites (41%) are unauthorised developments, enforcement action might be taken by the Planning Department.

Only 2 with Guesthouse Licences and 1 as Club

Apart from land use compliance, consumers should also be concerned whether the sites have appropriate operation licences. According to the HAGAO, premises providing short-term (i.e. less than 28 days) accommodation at a fee are required to obtain a hotel or guesthouse licence if their mode of operation falls within the meaning of “hotel or guesthouse” under the HAGAO. The Office of the Licensing Authority (OLA) of the Home Affairs Department will take into account the camping tent/canopy, or caravan and necessary ancillary facilities in determining whether a site is a regulated premise under the HAGAO.

According to the OLA’s reply, only 2 of the 22 sites had Guesthouse (Holiday Camp) licences, while another 1 held a Certificate of Compliance for a club. Whether sites providing various types of camping services should obtain a licence has to be considered and followed up on a case-by-case basis by the OLA. Under the law, operation or management of unlicensed hotels or guesthouses and ownership of such establishments are criminal offences, liable on conviction to a maximum fine of $500,000 and 3 years’ imprisonment. Persons renting unlicensed hotels or guesthouses will not be held liable.

4 “Glamping” Sites May Not Have Third Party Insurance

Exclusion Clauses Stating Campers Have No Right to Pursue Liability

Various activities are happening in camping sites, including cooking and barbecues, which may result in accidents such as falls and burns. According to “A Guide to Licence Application under the Hotel and Guesthouse Accommodation Ordinance”, licensed premises are required to take out third party liability insurance with an insured amount of no less than $10 million for each and every occurrence, with no cap on the number of indemnities. 3 out of the 7 surveyed sites providing “glamping” services had explicitly indicated that they have taken out a third party liability insurance policy, with 2 disclosing an insured amount of $10 million and $50 million (the latter being a guesthouse licence holder) respectively, while the remaining 1 did not reveal its coverage amount. The Council reminds consumers that for their own benefit and safety, they should make enquiries with the sites or relevant Government departments beforehand and only choose sites that comply with the law and offer better safeguard.

This survey also found that only 1 site indicated that occupants were required to read the site rules and sign a disclaimer upon check-in, while some sites only set out on their websites the terms and conditions, such as occupants would be responsible for all risks and liabilities of accidents, and have no right to claim or recover damages from the site or any related members of staff for any accident, death or loss of any kind within the sites. Failure to thoroughly study the information on these websites may result in disputes in the event of accidents that caused injury or other losses. According to the Control of Exemption Clauses Ordinance, campsite operators cannot by reference to any contract term or notice exclude or restrict his liability for death or personal injury resulting from negligence. For any other loss (such as loss of property) arising from negligence or breach of contract, unless the exemption clause is fair and reasonable, otherwise the trader cannot exclude or restrict his liability by reference to that exemption clause.

In addition, only 2 sites had staff on duty for 24 hours a day, while 3 other had staff on site only during specific hours, and for the rest of the day assistance could only be sought by phone or instant messaging software. In case of emergencies, occupants might not be able to have immediate assistance.

Holiday Rates Could Be 50% Higher

Pay Heed to Terms and Conditions

The sites offered tents of different types and sizes, while facilities available also varied. Some “glamping” tents were equipped with private bathrooms and toilets or even dedicated lawns, while some smaller tents required occupants to share toilets and bathrooms with campers from other tents. In general, rate discrepancies applied to all types of tents on different days of the week, with reservations on weekends or public holidays usually being more expensive. Taking the largest tent (about 380 square feet) as an example, the nightly rate ($2,700) on a Saturday or on the eve of a public holiday was 54% higher than that on other days ($1,750). Full prepayment was required for all surveyed sites and some demanded an additional deposit. Most did not allow cancellation of bookings and refunds other than inclement weather or unforeseen circumstances. In addition, only 4 sites allow pets at a charge of $100 to $300 per animal. Consumers should also be mindful that some sites are located in areas with closed roads (e.g. Sai Kung and Lantau Island) and motorists must hold a Closed Roads Permit to drive there, and may be required to pay parking fees at the premises.

Hong Kong’s countryside is rich in resources, and well-equipped private camping sites under regulated management and supervision can provide convenient and comfortable leisure choices for city dwellers, as well as novel accommodation experiences for tourists, further promoting in-depth tourism and consumption. The Council urges the Government to consider the need for licensing of private campsites based on their operating conditions, so as to strengthen consumer protection. Consumers should pay attention to the following when planning a stay at private camping sites:

  • Take the initiative to enquire and confirm with the site about items included in the service, and pay heed to arrangements for rescheduling, cancellation and refund, and whether additional handling fees will be levied;
  • Enquire about third party protection and assistance arrangements, and avoid bringing valuables into the camp;
  • Properly store cooking fuel, such as LPG cassette stoves or barbecue charcoal; be careful with fire when cooking outdoors and extinguish the fire thoroughly after cooking;
  • Observe site rules, avoid being too loud late at night, and respect other campers on the site.


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[1] 10 in Yuen Long, 6 on Lantau Island, 4 in Sheung Shui, and the remaining 2 in Sai Kung and Cheung Chau respectively.